Is the language of science a neutral and clear way to help a singer improve their singing? I argue that in many cases it is not. And if used extensively in a singing lesson, it could even prove detrimental rather than beneficial. In the long debate on the uses of science vs imagination in singing lessons, one of science's strongest claims has been that it has this "linguistic neutrality", in that it offers a clear and unbiased description of "what is actually going on". This is in supposed contrast to the use of imaginative or metaphoric language, that seeks to "indirectly" improve singing, and faces accusations of vagueness and waffle.
My overall project in the planned twenty or so essays is to bring scientific heft to the defence of imaginative, indirect methods of vocal improvement. I firmly believe that a clear-eyed physical awareness is of vital importance to all serious singers, but that using the language of science in a singing lesson does not necessarily offer the best means of gaining this awareness.
It is also important to me that the scientific descriptions of physiology, acoustics and anatomy are just that: descriptions. An accurate, pigmental, description of a Rembrandt no more enables us to paint like him than does a description of the position of the larynx in wonderful singing enable us to reproduce that. Yes, the physical is important in singing, to a high degree of skilfulness, but no, reverse-engineering great singing from anatomical description is not possible.
The essay can be found here. Do get in touch if you have any thoughts.
Alex Ashworth is Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music. He is also a highly active singer. His undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge was in Natural Sciences. In this blog and his essays he shares his enquiries into the nature of singing and of learning to sing. He would be delighted to hear from you if you have any thoughts or responses.